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3 Biggest observations from the Michigan State spring game

Michigan State took part in their annual spring game on Saturday as they are set to wrap up practices for the season. They will have their final spring practice on Tuesday.

Excluding the 32-30 victory for the offense, in a game where head coach Mark Dantonio frequently hijacked the game and modified the scoring and game situations, there were some things to take away regarding key positions on the field.

NO. 2 QUARTERBACK

Michigan State played four quarterbacks under center on Saturday, with presumptive starter and redshirt junior Brian Lewerke leading the charge.

We know Lewerke is the guy moving forward but there will be a new backup for the Spartans moving forward, now that Damion Terry has graduated and Messiah deWeaver has opted to transfer.

All signs point towards to Rocky Lombardi being the No. 2 behind Lewerke on the quarterback depth chart. Lombardi was the lone quarterback recruit for Michigan State in the Class of 2017 and redshirted last season. He got the bulk of the playing time among all the quarterbacks for MSU on Saturday.

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MSU got a good look at incoming freshman and early enrollee Theo Day. Like Lombardi, the Dearborn Divine Child product had his ups and downs during the exhibition but most certainly fits the mold of quarterbacks that have come through East Lasing before him.

However, look for Day to redshirt his first year. Michigan State would peg former Austin Peay transfer Mickey Macius as the No. 3 signal-caller behind Lewerke and Lombardi.

DEPTH AT RUNNING BACK

The backfield was going to be arguably the most important position to watch on the field for MSU in the spring practices. With Gerald Holmes graduating and Madre London transferring out, that left returning senior LJ Scott as (finally) the undisputed bell cow for the Spartans.

But who is going to give Scott some help in the backfield? It looks like sophomore Connor Heyward is going to be that complimentary back to Scott. The former 3-star athlete recruit from Georgia and brother of Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward was very versatile for Michigan State last season, returning 20 kicks and playing 22 offensive snaps for 465 all-purpose yards. Dantonio said his versatility allows for MSU to open the book up some on offense.

“He does a lot of different things in the backfield for us,” Dantonio said. “He played quarterback in high school. He does a lot of things and is a very good football player and he’s only a freshman (heading into his sophomore season). Feel good about that position.”

Having said all that, there’s not much depth at running back for Michigan State, at least right now. The team converted redshirt sophomore Austin Andrews from safety to get some reps. They also gave Saginaw Valley State transfer and Detroit Renaissance product Alante Thomas, brother of former MSU defensive lineman Lawrence Thomas, a good look on Saturday (see stats above).

It’s also important to remember that the Spartans should have redshirt freshman Weston Bridges, who was held out of spring practices with an undisclosed injury, ready to go by the fall and a pair of incoming freshman in Elijah Collins (U-D Jesuit) and 2017 Michigan “Mr. Football” recipient La’Darius Jefferson (Muskegon).

NO FLY ZONE, PART II

One huge component of potential big success for Michigan State in 2018 will be continuity on the roster. MSU is returning 19 of 22 starters from a year ago, including everybody in the secondary.

For a good chunk of last season, the Spartans boasted one of the better pass defenses in the Big Ten. They finished third in total defense (297.6 yards per game) and fifth in defensive pass efficiency (113.5). Statistically speaking, there’s obvious room for improvement there and with another year together, this could be a sequel to the famed “No Fly Zone” era of Michigan State in 2013.

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The secondary is probably the deepest position for the Spartans heading into 2018. Sophomore Josiah Scott and junior Justin Layne are back starting at corners, while junior David Dowell and senior Khari Willis are starting at safety once more. Willis had a game-high seven tackles in Saturday’s spring game, in what was a good performance for members of the secondary.

If this pass defense unit for Michigan State is even a fraction of the patented “No Fly Zone,” then it could be a nightmare for opposing teams to move the ball on the Spartans in 2018. MSU also had the conference’s top rush defense last year, allowing just 95.3 rush yards per game.

OTHER KEY OBSERVATIONS

  • A number of players were withheld from the spring game on Saturday, among them being wide receiver Felton Davis, who was the team’s leading pass catcher in 2017. This allowed for some players deeper on the depth chart to get some reps, namely redshirt sophomore Cam Chambers, who had a game-high five catches for 50 yards on Saturday.
  • Also sitting out of the exhibition were a pair of starting linebackers, junior Joe Bachie and senior Andrew Dowell. This opened the door for guys like redshirt senior Byron Bullough, who started at middle linebacker and has played most of his career snaps on special teams, and senior Grayson Miller, who is sort of a safety/linebacker hybrid for MSU. Redshirt junior Tyriq Thompson, who is expected to start at the SAM linebacker spot, also got time in the middle.
  • It looks like the Allen family lineage will continue in the trenches at Michigan State. Redshirt sophomore Matt Allen, younger brother of former MSU centers Jack and Brian Allen, got the starting nod at center in Saturday’s spring affair and it appears he will keep that tradition going in East Lansing.

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